Yesterday as I maneuvered my bicycle out of the gate I watched as our little neighbor, Sol walked down the street with her grandmother. Sol recently turned nine years old and is built like a small dynamo. She is quite strong for her size, but still looked almost too small for the task of supporting her grandmother’s arm as they walked down the rutted dirt road. They were almost to Sol’s house, but I asked if Sol wanted help and she told me that she did not and both the grandmother and Sol greeted me with smiles.
I stood and watched little Sol as the two edged on up to her home. Sol then opened the gate area and helped her grandmother sit on a chair there on the porch.
A telling indicator regarding the strength of families and communities is found by watching how the people in an area treat their elderly.
There was a man living in our village who people told me was almost 100 years old. He lived in a small house one half block from the main intersection in the central area of town. His home was right on the main route to the tiendas and bus stop, so I (and most of the town) passed this man almost every day. He always called out greetings to everyone who passed.
Everyday one of his neighbors would help him set up a chair in front of his house in the morning and then help him move the chair across the street to the shade in the afternoon. He had to be helped across the road because he was almost completely blind. We watched as he got more and more frail with the years until he passed away recently.
I am not sure if he quite made it to one hundred, but I do know that his final years were spent pleasantly enjoying the Ecuadorian weather in the company of family and friends who always took time to visit and assist the oldest member of our community.
Now I am not sure who might be the town’s elder statesman. One candidate might be a man who usually can be found sitting downtown in front of one of three or four spots around the same two block area. I always seek him out as I pass through to wave or stop to say hello. I know the man’s name and family situation, but I do not want to misrepresent his condition or embarrass him with other who might know him.
Some times my friend acknowledges me and waves or shouts a greeting, but often the man seems to be lost in his own thoughts. At times you can hear him mumbling aloud when there are no other people talking with him. Sadly, he is the type of person that many of us see in big cities and walk around as we admonish our children to stay close and not to talk to the stranger.
But, this is San Clemente, Ecuador and the man is not ignored nor avoided. Store owners welcome him to sit and visit with him throughout the day. I was downtown getting some ice cream the other day at a tienda where this old man was sitting. He was in rare form and seemed to be calling a soccer game that none of us could see.
The thing that was amazing was the detail and enthusiasm he expressed in the extremely fast, non-stop style of South American soccer announcers. I do not know if he was remembering a soccer game from the past or simply creating one with his calls, but the people around were listening attentively as the climax grew to the ultimate “shoots and scores” that ends with and extended call of, “Gooooooaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllll!”
My friend Jhonny called to the man and told him to call a game where I scored the winning goal. Without even looking up and without any hesitation this older gentleman who many might regard as mentally feeble or otherwise handicapped launched into a rapid-fire report of me racing down the field, passing the ball, getting the center kick, shooting and barely missing a shot that bounced off the upright, getting the rebound and then (heroically I might add) dribbling through several defenders to score the winning goal.
The monologue lasted at least two minutes and, by the time I scored my imaginary goal, nine or ten people were gathered around listening as I jumped in and assisted with the “goal” call. People were laughing and joining the fun all over the block. These people were not just enduring the presence of their elderly visitor, but were enjoying his company.
That happened a few days ago and I have passed the man three or four times since. Each time he looks up with a big smile and says, “Hola Juan!”
I hope my new friend lives to be a hundred years old or more calling soccer games and enjoying life here where…
Life is good (even for old folks) in Ecuador!